As Indians woke up to the specifics of rail price hike in “World Music” Day it was certainly not music to the ears of average commuters. The feel good factor has suddenly vanished after getting a dose of Modi’s bitter pill. While some understood the rationale of the fare hike most expressed shock and disappointment.
Senior ministers of the Modi government today bravely defended the unpopular decision of rising passenger and freight charges in railways. From Arun Jaitley to Ravi Shankar Prasad all said that it was a necessary step taken to stop bleeding in railways exchequer. Currently going by conservative estimates it is suffering loss of30 crore every day. Jaitley promised that NDA is committed to significantly improving infrastructure in railways to make it at par with the best in the world. Government doesn’t want the Indian railways to go down Air India’s route.
Today opposition political parties protested against rail fare hike in many places of the country. Congress expressed its dissent in the capital. It was Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge who muted this fare increase in interim budget, but why let facts come in the way of showing outrage. Just like Narendra Modi earlier protested against UPA’s decision of hiking rail fare just before budget but went on to do exactly that, opposition parties are now denouncing steps which they took while in power. It’s the common folks who are getting squeezed out in this incessant tug of war.
Indians in Iraq:
The condition remains dicey as civil war continues in several cities of Iraq. Some Indians have returned home. But there is no development regarding release of 40 odd workers who are currently kidnapped in Mosul. Some sources have suggested that government is trying to leverage its friendship with Saudi Arabia to secure release of the workers.
Saudi Arabia does have some sort of influence over these militants. Hence government is looking to exploit that channel. However it is unclear how much control ISIS top leadership has over its foot soldiers.
United States of America is all set to give Modi a rare honour in his maiden visit to the country. If things go according to plan Modi will address the joint session of Congress during his visit to Washington in September.
The proposal has been floated by chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Ed Royce who holds the post is a Republican and has expressed his desire to the House Speaker. The proposal is likely to get bipartisan support with Obama administration keen to remove the bad blood generated during the Khobragade incident.
If Modi indeed addresses the joint session it will be a major vindication for him after being denied visa by the Bush administration in 2005. Hillary Clinton in an interview also said that visa incidence is a matter of past and they are looking to start dialogue in a fresh way with Indian Prime Minister.
Russia, another important strategic partner like USA is also looking to firm up ties with the Modi administration. They want closer ties with both China and India in the matter of energy cooperation. Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin recently came to India as envoy of Putin. Russians are currently looking at construction of a gas pipeline from India to their country, an ambitious project to put it mildly. In the coming days a Working Group on Strategic issues is likely to be formed to brainstorm on different “strategic projects” between the two countries.
Modi sarkar’s maiden budget is round the corner and industries have started making their demands known to the Finance Minister. Auto sector which is currently reeling from lack of buyer interest wants the excise duty exemption to continue. It is hoping against hope that once the economy picks up pace, people will again buy cars and two wheelers in large numbers. Government departments also want concession to continue in various sectors to encourage economic growth.
Health Minister Harsha Vardhan however wants taxes to increase on cigarettes and all nicotine based products. He hopes that it will somewhat discourage people from consuming those products with severe health hazards.
Air India has now been a liability of the government for a very long time. Many believe privatizing the airline is the prudent way forward. However Modi sarkar doesn’t seem to share that point of view. According to aviation secretary government is looking at possible steps to again revitalize ailing Air India.
Food inflation is currently a huge worry for the central government with fears expressed over possible shortage in essential items if rainfall is really short of expectation. However Union Minister for Food and Civil supplies Ram Vilas Paswan has given assurance that government has sufficient stock to last for a year. He said that they are trying their best to control inflation and like Jaitley blamed the hoarders for creating artificial shortfall.
HRD Minister Smriti Irani has said that they are planning to completely redesign the education system in India after consultation with all relevant shareholders. Modi sarkar wants to make an educational policy which reflects the modern age realities and sensibilities. Government aspires to use the demographic advantage by creating a “knowledge based economy”. Complete restructuring of UGC is also on the cards.
Meanwhile after “suggestion” from Smriti Irani Delhi University has decided to scrap its four year course as it is not aligned with the prevalent college system across India.
Is Raisina hill going to be the last stop in L.K Advani’s illustrious political journey? Union Minister and ex BJP President Nitin Gadkari has certainly indicated in that direction. According to Gadkari, Advani deserves to be the President of India. Advani who played a talismanic role in bringing BJP to power in the centre for the first time in 90’s couldn’t fulfill his dreams of becoming the Prime Minister. His bid for the top job was rejected by the electorate.
There were rumours that he may be the Speaker of the 16th LokSabha. However Gadkari said that it wouldn’t have been prudent to make Advani Speaker as he has served the nation as Deputy Prime Minister. Pranab Mukherjee still has three years as President. But after his term finishes, we may well see Advani in that position. It will be the perfect swansong for the ageing patriarch.
Finally, a look at the key economic parameters as of today…